Sockeye Training Camp in Russia: An Inside Look

by | July 19, 2011, 4:00am 0

In May of 2011 Seattle’s premier Open Club team journeyed to Russia to run a 10-Day Ultimate clinic. The following is a recap and photographic account of the groundbreaking clinic written by organizer Kate Barabanova,

“If you want to have something you’ve never had, then you have to do something you’ve never done before.”

When Tyler and I started this project in September, we had no idea how amazing it would turn out for both sides. Sockeye had never run a skills clinic on such a big scale and so far away from home before and so they had to bring more coaches than usual and create a really extensive, versatile program. We in Russia had never experienced anything like it. Now I can tell you that everything went brilliantly! And if you are interested in finding out more, here is an almost day-to-day account of Sockeye’s two weeks in Russia.

April, 26.

On April 26, Tyler Kinley and Joe BJ Sefton flew in to Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport. They had come from Paganello, where they came sixth playing with Scandal and partied hard. They had a couple of free days before the skills clinic was due to start, so we decided to go to St. Petersburg.

“BJ and I arrived in Russia at about midnight, dead tired, and having to board a night train to St. Petersburg, so my first impression is a bit hazy. However, I had 2 very different first impressions of Russians. One is my impression of anyone that didn’t know us, and they were very, very serious – no smiles. The other is of anyone that did know us, and they were incredibly helpful, and surprisingly knowledgeable about the city and the history of Russia.” – Tyler Kinley

Of course, Joe and Tyler couldn’t resist a bit of throwing practice on St. Petersburg’s historic Dvortsovaya square, originally used by Russian kings and queens to reach the famous Hermitage.


Later they discovered an old Russian game called “Gorodki” and were so interested that they waited for about an hour for their turn to play.

April, 28

Then I left Tyler and BJ in St. Petersburg and came back to Moscow to meet the next group of Sockeye arrivals – Aaron Talbot, Sam Harkness, Ben Wiggins, Bailey Russel and Jaime Idaho Arambula. After missing their connection in Finland (the flight was an hour late leaving New York because Obama was landing there) an unexpected change in Tallinn, losing their baggage and hours of waiting, we finally met in terminal E of Sheremetyevo airport.

The guys were so tired that we just had a quick dinner and went home to sleep.

April, 29

The next day I met Tyler and BJ off the train from St. Petersburg in the morning, and picked Skip Sewell and Spencer Wallis up at the airport in the afternoon, and we all got together for a general meeting before the Camp to discuss all our plans for the next 10 days.

“Moscow: Overwhelmingly large/bustling, like New York on steroids.

Russians we knew: Wonderfully welcoming. Eager to make sure we had everything we needed and to share as much of their culture as they could in the short amount of time we had.

Russians we didn’t know: A little standoffish. Favorite subway game was “Get that guy/girl to smile at me”. Challenging game.” – Skip Sewell, Sockeye

The day ended with a barbeque dinner in the garden.

April, 30 – May 2.

We arrived to the fields two hours before the start of the camp to set up and for the guys to get used to the fields.

I could tell that they were nervous, and understandably so: they had just arrived in a completely alien country and were expected to teach ultimate skills to around 150 foreigners. But after a chuck around with some of the early arrivals to the camp, they seemed to relax and regain their confidence.

At the beginning of each day of the skills clinic, the participants and coaches formed a big circle and listened to one of Ben’s inspired speeches.


The first day we all made a promise to each other.

Morning Session

Four groups divided by experience rotated around four 30-minute stations in the morning session of each day. The stations were:

  • Throwing (run by Idaho and Bailey)
  • Marking (run by Ben and Aaron)
  • Cutting (run by BJ and Spencer)
  • Defense (run by Skip and Shark)

The coaches taught all groups the same ideas but with different depth in details. After 30 minutes at each station, Tyler, who was overseeing all four stations, blew his whistle and we rotated to the next station. It was very interesting to listen to every coach; how they spoke, what they had to say, which details they wanted to draw our attention to.

After the camp, I asked the coaches about the differences between the groups and they said the difference between group #1 (beginners) and group #4 (advanced) was huge. The coaches had to explain everything to the beginner’s group – why they were doing the exercise? How they could use what they were learning in play. Sometimes even how they should hold a disc.

“I noticed that the less experienced players often paid attention the best and performed the drills as closely to the way we described as possible, whereas more experienced, “better” players had more ingrained habits that were harder to get away from, and made the drills often more difficult. I should have expected this, but it did surprise me.” – Tyler Kinley, Sockeye

My group was the experienced group and it was very easy to explain all the exercises and sometimes it wasn’t necessary to explain why we were doing it and how we should use it in a game. But sometimes we asked questions and noticed some details which surprised our coaches a lot. For me it was very interesting to understand all those things and find out if I had been doing it right or wrong all these years.

“Whenever anyone asks me what the “best” way to do something is, I always find this difficult to answer, because there rarely is a “best” way to do something. Every time I think I know what the best way to do any simple ultimate skill or strategy, or train, someone else comes up with something better.” – Tyler Kinley, Sockeye

Marking station with Ben Wiggins and Aaron Talbot

Ben explained all his exercises very clearly and intelligently. And Aaron always helped him to demonstrate without having to ask. It seemed like they were reading each other’s minds, which was amazing!

After the explanation we divided into small groups of three-four players and practiced. Ben and Aaron went from one group to the other to watch and sometimes comment on what we were doing. If we made a mistake, they didn’t say “you’re doing it wrong,” but “let’s try to do it this way, maybe it will be more effective.” This small psychological trick was excellent, especially on the first day. We felt a little bit self-conscious because these gods of ultimate were watching us and noticing all our imperfections. But after a while we noticed that the coaches also made mistakes and they didn’t afraid of making mistakes and this made us relax.

Defense station with Skip Sewell and Sam Harkness

Skip and Sam had a different and very friendly approach to coaching. They talked to us as if we were their teammates and we were all together at a Seattle training session. On the first day Sam showed us some exercises he had invented especially for the camp and will use later for Sockeye too.

Later we divided into two groups to work on the same exercises with Skip and Sam. It was interesting to see the difference in their styles of coaching the same things. Sam is calmer and gives clear, constructive advice and compliments for good work just with a smile and short exclamations like “good!”, “cool!” or “that’s great!”. Most of the girls preferred being in his group, a position he seemed confused by at first, but quickly grew into.

“I really liked Sam + Skip’s defense drills, where you move with your defender diagonally, where you are in a confined space and you have to either open underneath or hit the cone. I think D training is what Russian ultimate really needs, we don’t do too much of that. We rely on offense.” -Marta Chernova, Minsk, Belarus.

Most of the guys preferred Skip’s active and lively style of coaching. He always talked in clear, loud and simple English. Sometimes we didn’t even need to translate. If any player did an exercise well, he always applauded and encouraged everyone to cheer. He smiled and joked a lot.

“I completely agree with Tyler on this one (regarding beginners vs. advanced learners), though I felt like everyone was willing to learn if we could demonstrate why we were doing something rather than just how to do it. That’s one of the hardest challenges as a coach – to explain why a technique is important.” – Skip Sewell, Sockeye

Throwing station with Jaime Arambula and Bailey Russel

The main impression left on us from this station was Idaho’s energy. He talked A LOT, often used such strong American slang that our translators couldn’t understand a word. But he demonstrated every single movement so we could understand clearly what we should do. Also, he did everything with his unique “Idaho” manner that instantly grabbed our attention.

When we divided into groups to work on drills, it seemed like Idaho was everywhere at once. He threw with us, marked us and never stopped talking and joking. Bailey was completely the opposite: calm and concise. When we were practicing, he appeared from nowhere, made some very specific comments and then seemed to disappear again. He told us in a calm, low voice about the intricacies of throwing: how to move a hand, or rotate the feet.

One of the biggest mysteries of the camp was how two such different people could work so well together.

I really liked Idaho’s “TRUUUST!” lesson, where he explained how sometimes you’ve just got to trust your teammate. Throw me shit and I will catch it or, just run like the wind, and I will get that pass to you. A teammate and I used to have this kind of TRUST bond (she doesn’t play anymore) so the lesson made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Again, TeamWork. – Marta Charnova, Minsk, Belarus

Cutting station with Joe “BJ” Sefton and Spencer Wallis

I have no idea why, but the main feature of this station was – FUN! I don’t know about any other groups, but we joked and laughed a lot there. Started by Idaho but widely popularized by BJ, the “chop-steps” (for stopping during a cut) were a big source of entertainment. The way BJ did the chop-steps was captivating – sharp movements, clear explanations and a huge smile. BJ immediately won the hearts of all the girls in my groups and he played along with them, making everyone work hard to get a smile, a wink or a short compliment like “good”, “wonderful” and “amazing”. If somebody forgot to do their chop-steps, he forced us to shout “chop-chop-chop!!!”

BJ at the Camp

Stuff I personally learned: the chop-steps. Not that I wasn’t aware that rapid stops are very useful, I just couldn’t quite do them right before. I would fall over, or make it too obvious that I was changing directions, or I would kill my feet/knees. The Chop step is super-awesome for keeping balance. I’m sure that if you ask anyone who took part in the camp “what’s the one thing you learned at camp?” the answer would be “Chop-Chop-Chop!!!” – Marta Charnova, Minsk, Belarus

As usual we divided up into two groups for the exercises, one working with BJ and the other with Spence. Spence’s style of coaching was very serious and professional. We were instantly captivated by his charisma and tried hard to do everything just as he instructed. He stopped us if we did it wrong, showed and explained the right way and made us do it better. Usually this was the last station before the lunch break for my group, which was a good thing, because we were always very tired afterwards.

As for Tyler, he rotated around all of the stations, stopping for a few minutes if he saw that the coaches needed help, or if something caught his attention. He also watched the time and controlled the group rotation, running from one station to the next and asking the coaches if they were finished or not.

Afternoon Session

The three afternoon sessions were defense on Saturday, offense on Sunday, and zone defense and offense on Monday. Ben explained the main points of defense/offense and then Sockeye demonstrated how it works on the field. There were two aspects of this demonstration that really caught everyone’s attention.

The first was when they showed us Sockeye’s vertical live stack. Yes, live really is the right word! All six players in the stack never stopped moving, but in such a clever way: they never got in each other’s way, never ran to the wrong side, and always recycled back into the stack. They also talked to each other the whole time. We watched with admiration and when Sockeye finished the demonstration, the entire camp burst into applause. It was really amazing to see how all seven players worked as one body.

Zone D

I learned that all details are very important – this is the main thing. You must practice all game elements and you can do it. I liked the timing drills, chop-steps, spacing and man D. The most impressive thing was the vertical stack demonstration! That was amazing!!! – Sergey Abdurashidov, “Nova”, Kiev, Ukraine

And the second remarkable moment was on the third day, when Sockeye showed us zone defense, also known as a “cup” 3-3-1. Skip was in the middle of the second cup and helped all three players in the first cup to work better, to close the right spaces, to move faster or slower. And all three players in the first cup listened to Skip and looked behind from time to time to check where their opponents were.

As Ben said: “When you hear an order to move, move! That player knows better than you do, and they can help you cut off or block throws. If you hear the order but don’t move, you are at the mercy of the handler”.

After all the explanations and demonstrations, we practiced with two coaches per group. We started by practicing 3v3, then evolved to 4v4 and 5v5. My advanced group was lucky – we worked on defense with Bailey and Sam – the master of defense! And on offense with Ben and Bailey and on zone D and O with Ben and Bailey too. So Bailey was our lucky star! :)

Almost all things were new for me IAE. If it was not about knowledge, than it was about attitude. There were two drills that really stuck in my memory: the triangle marking drill and horizontal stack offense.

Knowledge use: I’ve already implemented one fundamental technique in my game and have also started to change my attitude to training sessions (starting first of all from myself). I have a lot of things on my TO DO list, but want to bring new ideas to my team gradually to avoid overwhelming them. Ben Wiggins was incomparable in his emphasis. And Matthew Sewell did a great presentation of teaching material at the coach clinic. -Yana Valasatova, Minsk, Belarus

Showcase Games

Scrimmage Russian National vs. Sockeye (offense)

There were two Sockeye vs. Russian National team games during the camp. The first game was on Sunday, at the end of the second day and it was more like a scrimmage. We didn’t have any illusions and understood clearly that Sockeye would win both games, so the main goal was trying to apply all the new information and skills which our guys had learned.

The second game was a real showcase game, because the guys played in the middle of the third and final day of the International Moscow Flying Disc Festival with a crowd, press and TV.

One the most interesting things about the Sockeye vs. Russian National team game was to see how everything we learned really works in a game. All that stuff which we had learned a couple of hours earlier we saw in Sockeye’s offense and defense. And we really saw improvements in the players from the Russian national team who were studying in the camp and a big difference of their style from those players who didn’t take part in it.

BJ’s layout at showcase game during the iMFLD

Unfortunately more than half of Russian national team players couldn’t attend the camp (because of the cost, work or long distance) and that’s why those who attended had to retell all little details we have learned. Both games were very interesting and very different. I could see that in the first game, when we played on a normal field with a smaller crowd, the Russian players were more relaxed and tried different offensive and defensive looks. But once we got to play on a big arena, in front of cameras and a big crowd, it really showed who was more used to playing in this kind of conditions. Russians were super nervous and did some uncharacteristic mistakes, Sockeye on the contrary felt like a fish in water: showing off with big throws, amazing catches and creative plays. Russians didn’t score that many points but every time they scored the crowd went nuts. Also they definitely learned a lot. Also special thanks should go to Sockeye coaches who after both games email Russian captains with some feedback about what could be improved, actually a very detailed feedback. Those emails were translated into Russian and forwarded to all Russian players. We wish we could play more games like this which would teach us how to play smarter and with more confidence. – Toly Vasilyev, Captain and Coach of Russian National team

Coaches Clinics

Sam and Skip ran a three-day clinic for team captains, coaches and managers. Every day started with a cup of tea or coffee and a chat in a bright white dining kitchen that adjoins a small dance hall. After half an hour, we moved to the hall, sat down on the matting and Skip started his lectures. Sam drew diagrams and wrote up the main points.

They told us about how they plan the season from try-outs to Nationals, how to make a plan of one practice and a schedule of practices for weeks and months. Skip told us about captains, committees and communication between the committee and players. Sam taught us rules in communication between all players, how they support each other and how they work on their mistakes. And they answered tons of questions every day!

“There were some details which I hadn’t heard before, for example communication between the players, captains, committee; how to use the practice time right. – Sergey Abdurashidov, “Nova”, Kiev, Ukraine

The most important things I learned during the coaches clinics were that we need to make a schedule of tournaments for the season and focus on one tournament; the team and all players should set their goals and wishes for the season at the beginning of the season, find a way to realize it and then start practices. – Maksim Voloschik, “x3”, Belarus

I understood that it’s not a problem when players join or leave a team as long as the backbone of the collective is the same and keeps a good team spirit for playing high level ultimate. For me it was very important to be able to meet these guys, to talk with them, to understand who they are, those guys who play at the highest level in the whole world.” – Alexander Korotkov, “Bivni”, Nizhniy Novgoro

The third evening was set aside for questions. The most popular questions were about the adaptation of Sockeye’s experience to Russian reality. We understood clearly that there are some things we can’t apply here. The biggest difference is that Sockeye has a huge choice of the best ultimate players in Seattle (and maybe in US). Every year they hold try outs with about 50-100 applicants and they really can choose the best guys. We can’t afford the luxury of choosing players. In many Russian cities there are about 15-20 players overall, with just 5-10 attending practice regularly. Skip and Sam discussed all those problems, tried to find solutions and asked us to write to them later to tell them if it worked out or not.

“I think I was more challenged by the clinic participants than I’ve ever been as a coach — because once we opened the door on a little bit of knowledge, they wanted to know everything all at once. Our time was so short with each group/participant that we couldn’t answer all the situational “what if’s” — this is especially true during the lecture series that Sam and I did.” – Skip Sewell, Sockeye

Eight International Moscow Flying Disc Festival

This hat tournament in Moscow has been running every May for the past eight years. Of course this year’s event was fairly unique. All camp participants played in ‘camp’ teams. We had eight ‘camp’ teams in the first advanced division and four ‘non-camp’ teams. Each Sockeye guy had his own team to captain and coach. In the second division there were four ‘camp’ teams and eight ‘non-camp’ teams. Those teams were coached by the Sockeye guys, but mostly by Idaho, who preferred to work with the beginners and couldn’t play due to a shoulder injury.

The general theme of the tourney was “professions” and each team had costumes, names and cheers related to their chosen profession. As many of us expected, two ‘camp’ teams played in the final – Ben’s and Tyler’s. Ben’s team also won Spirit. It was clear to all that the ‘camp’ teams played with much better spirit than the ‘non-camp’ teams.

“All of the Sockeye guys were very sociable. Ben and Skip turned out to be really good coaches and teachers! I guess only an idiot would not understand what they were trying to explain! At the festival I played in Skip’s team. He is a great captain and definite leader. I liked how he set tasks and goals for each point. – Sergey Abdurashidov, “Nova”, Kiev, Ukraine

I saw that all ‘camp’ teams trıed to find their own D and O tactics from the first game and improved them during the tourney. Many of us learned a lot of new O and D tactics. This was an absolutely unique experience for all of us.

And I can tell the same about the Spirit of the Game. It was so pleasant to see how all the Sockeye guys enjoyed the game, how they worked with their teams; how they treated their opponents with respect. All those things forced me to reconsider my attitude to the game. – Konstantin Surnov, “Shadows”, St. Petersburg, Russian National Open Team

I liked this idea of playing under the direction of Sockeye coaches and I think it worked 100%. I haven’t heard a single bad review. I played with Bailey Russel and it was unforgettable! The festival was a perfect continuation of the practices. We tried to use all the things we learned from the week and Bailey always compared each game to the drills and showed us how they worked.” – Vadim Medvedev, “LuckyGrass”, Moscow

I played with Sam and learned so many new D tactics! I saw that during the game Sam made a kind of “analysis” of the opponent and then told us what defense we would play next point. I was so surprised at how easily he figured out the strong and weak sides of the players and teams, which he had never seen before, after just two or three points, and showed us how we could use it.

“My team at the hat tourney was fantastic. I was the captain, and I gave very simple goals – to have fun, to support each other positively at all times, and to always play hard. Besides that, we did discuss some strategy here and there, but nothing more than fundamentals — moving the disc quickly, getting the disc off the sidelines early in the stall count, not giving the other team upline cuts… basic principals of good ultimate. My impression was very positive – the team really took to the positivity and support, and it made it much more fun. I think it also helped us get to the finals, since we didn’t get down on ourselves or each other after a turnover. – Tyler Kinley, Sockeye

My team (Stakanovets) was wonderful — and even though we ended up on the bottom side of the bracket, I felt like each player brought the best of themselves in every game. Our goals were almost exactly the same as Tyler’s team: to play with positive energy, to support each other, to not focus on winning or losing – but to make smaller goals for each game and point (we’re going to work on allowing a team to huck, we’re going to try and keep the disc off the sideline on offense, etc). Players on my team had a lot of firsts: First layout, first huck — and that was incredibly gratifying as a teacher.” – Skip Sewell, Sockeye

Author’s Notes

I have been playing ultimate since 2001 and think I already knew all of the standard ways of playing fairly good ultimate. But for me the main thing I learned at the camp was the huge numbers of details about every small part of the game. More and more I realized that all these small details are very important in the game, and paying attention to all these details is the real way to take my game to the next level.

You have to know all these details and know the “working place” of each one. How to practice them. How to apply them in a game. Why you should apply this particular detail to this part of the game, not the other.

The Sockeye guys explained everything to us, answered tons of questions, showed us every exercise and movement (from foot rotations to moving in zone defense.)

The biggest indicator that the camp was a success is the way it has transformed every training session I have been to since. Everyone is using Sockeye drills, there are heated debates about how exactly Tyler or Skip did a particular foot movement, and most importantly, our spirit has drastically improved. Thanks to Sockeye we are learning to really value our teammates and work together as a team, and not as individuals. The Sockeye players have left a huge mark on Russian ultimate and the skills they taught us are now being taught to all those players unfortunate enough not to have attended the camp, and will be taught to new players for months and even years to come.

Special thanks to Natasha Doff for help translating and to photographers: Evgeny Khramov, Pavel Kiselev, Timur Kary-Niyazov, Alina Dunaeva, Dmitry Strelchin, Nikolay Ugolnikov, Anton Uhanov, Polish guys and myself :)

For a full photographic account (including some party photos) go here:

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